Mon, Feb 23, 2004 - Page 10 News List

Internet music retailers making their way to Asia

AFP , SINGAPORE

Sales of music CDs are on the slide in Asia as illegal downloading continues unabated, but industry players say popular, legal alternatives such as those found in the US will soon be available across the region.

Recording industry sales in Asia fell 5 percent in the first half of last year to US$2.74 billion, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

"The results again reflect the significant impact of unauthorized file-sharing services on the Internet, CD burning and commercial piracy," IFPI stated in its 2003 interim sales report.

CD sales in the US have also declined sharply, falling 15 percent since the start of last year, US-based technology research analysts Forrester Research said.

But the US decline is at least partly being offset by a dramatic increase in online music sales.

One of the most popular digital music stores, Apple's iTunes, has sold over 30 million song tracks since its launch in the US in April last year, while newly legitimate Napster and other sites are also proving popular.

In Asia the legal digital music market is much smaller, with the few sites that are set up generally unable to offer the latest songs, according to Singapore-based digital music service provider Soundbuzz.

"There isn't any current compelling music available for download in Asia," Soundbuzz director and co-founder Shabnam Melwani-Reis said.

Soundbuzz is helping to set up a music portal in Singapore similar to Australia's BigPond Music, which it also helped to develop, and believes offering the latest hits is the only way to succeed.

"The tracks have to be available online when the CD is available in stores," Melwani-Reis said. "We have not been able to do this before because we did not have the licence, but with the new portal this will be possible."

The Singaporean portal will be launched in late March and Soundbuzz says it will be the first up-to-date online music store in Asia.

Soundbuzz is also helping clients set up similar operations in Taiwan and Hong Kong, as well as revamping the existing Indian portal at indiatimes.com.

Apple and Roxio Inc, the online operator of Napster, have also announced their intention to plug the Asian market by setting up digital music stores in Japan this year.

Soundbuzz's chief executive officer, Sudhanshu Sarronwala, said setting up legal alternatives would entice many music lovers away from free file-sharing programs and Web sites.

"The progress of digital music [in Asia] will be quite significant, probably in line with what we're seeing in the US," Sarronwala said.

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